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Reflections from the Village of Taybeh, Palestine
Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D. — I drive down the hill sides and country side of Biblical Judea and Samaria and I blast my Greek music as I view the most spectacular of sites especially going out of my husband’s village of Taybeh, which is technically Biblical Ephraim. I can see a clear and crystal sparkle of the Dead Sea. You might guess that I have too many Greek tapes because I am a Greek by birth and an American by upbringing. One might say I am a Palestinian in spirit and by choice. My mother will not be very happy to accept this identity because she did not realize that if she uproots me from Tripoli, Greece at five years of age, I might turn out to be other than a pure Greek. The worst problem is failing to have been a perfect mother myself to three adult children who do not exactly speak Greek but know a few words. Thank God for girls, they are a bit more cooperative so I would like to confess that according to my standards, my daughter does actually speak Greek. Unfortunately, nothing is ever good enough for the traditional, closed-minded and old fashioned Greek parents from Arcadia. My father has passed away but my mother keeps nagging why I married “an Arab,” and not just any Arab but a Palestinian without a homeland.
I am a Greek-American in the middle of the wilderness in the West Bank sometimes literally deciding if I should have coffee or a Taybeh Beer for breakfast. Now this is becoming a huge big problem in itself if you are thinking in terms of coffee or beer for breakfast but glory be to God for all things, until now, I am drinking the Taybeh Beer at midnight since it’s the Finest in the Middle East and still having the coffee for breakfast. Although, I struggle psychologically, emotionally and spiritually with each and every single day just to survive and keep my sanity. The husband owns the brewery on the side of the wall where the women own nothing at all. Since the 26 feet high separation wall was built by Israel, it is truly an open prison.
I do not even have to struggle like the regular population since just having a roof over my head, food to eat and a car to drive, I have already jumped up to being part of the top 10% of the population. In Gaza, 80% of the people cannot survive without humanitarian aid. Taybeh suffers from 50% unemployment and most Christian people run away from the miserable occupation policies to give their children a better place to live, be educated and have a future instead of the current Israeli occupation since 1967 when Israel invaded the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
It was my fate that as a Greek-American at Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts, I met one of the very few non-Greek students on the campus. And what a huge big problem that he did not marry a nice traditional Palestinian girl from his village so that my whole life I must be challenged to try and be accepted in this image. And no matter what Palestinian food I cook or Palestinian traditional dress I wear or over two hundred articles that I have written to bring awareness of the struggle for Palestine in general and the Christian Palestinian presence in specific, well, it’s simply never good enough. People always identify me, as the “foreigner.” How foreign can I possibly be? I seem to look like them, talk like them but I guess will always be an outsider until the day I die.
I have specifically asked my children to include the word “foreigner” following my name on my grave stone. It seems to make sense to me since as an Orthodox Christian woman I feel I am not of this world so I guess I am a foreigner since I constantly promote the love and peace of Christ My Lord and Savior in a very violent land. I am trying to listen to the Church Fathers who say that it is through suffering we will gain our salvation. My patience has extremely been maximized since my husband returned to invest and boost the Palestinian economy in 1995. My experience is that we are back two thousand years ago in terms of how Christians are treated in the Middle East. I was very heartbroken to know that this week over fifty people were killed in church in Iraq and in Jerusalem, the Israeli settlers set a church on fire based on their fanatic thinking that only Jews belong to the Promised Land.
I feel isolated and I am literally in the only Christian village that still exists in Palestine today and technically out of the four million Palestinians that live in the West Bank and Gaza, we are less than 2% who are Christian and even a much lower number of us actually practicing our Christian values. We live next door to Israel with six million Israelis, although at least one million are Palestinians who did not run away to the refugee camps in 1948 with the creation of Israel to add to the current seven million Palestinian refugees. In the mean time, Israel is still trying to figure out how to wipe the area clean in order to create 100% Jewish homeland since the three Zionist committees set up in 1948 to implement ethnic cleaning strategies have not been successful.
All around Taybeh I am completely surrounded by huge illegal Israeli settlements that I am not sure will ever go away since their effort is to make a Greater Israel backed up with all the money that it takes from the USA. These illegal settlements , Jewish homes for Jews only on confiscated Palestinian land, try to occupy as much of the land as possible especially the mountain tops where its more secure for the Israeli army to protect them and they control all of the roads and the natural resources like denying water to our village four days out of the week. So I wake up every morning starring at the Israeli settlement getting bigger and bigger in front of my kitchen window and that is when the thought of drinking a Taybeh Beer comes to mind. I wonder how my children can return after college graduation to live under oppression when they have felt the freedom and the luxuries that America offers.
We are trying to keep our Christian presence in this very land where Christ was born, walked, shared the Good News, was crucified and resurrected. But the high price is the lack of freedom and the lack of opportunities that other people around the world take for granted. My husband’s grandfather, Fr. Daoud Khoury, was the parish priest in Taybeh at St. George Greek Orthodox Church where he went abroad to raise funds to build the current church building that we pray in today since the church from the early fourth century was ruined twice. Our oral history says that St. Helen built the first church in our area because the local Christians explained how Christ was received in Ephraim (John 11:54) before his crucifixion but the modern name Taybeh came after the 12th century with Saladin, the Islamic conquer, calling the local people “Taybeen” meaning “good” in Arabic since they followed the Gospel of love and fed his soldiers and horses. We are less than two thousand residents in Taybeh because more people from Taybeh live in Detroit, Michigan than Taybeh itself due to the military occupation forcing people to leave for a better future having a little over 400,000 Palestinian Christians in the Diaspora.
The small Christian community in the Holy Land needs the strength, courage and steadfastness to continue the witness for Christ’s love and peace in a land that has only known violence. It is in deep need of a just peace settlement so that all of its sons and daughters can return. However, the politicians keep talking but on the ground nothing is changing, just more and more Israeli settlements on what is 22% of historic Palestine for the second state solution which has completely failed. That is why if I am blessed to wake up for another day, I keeping saying *Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
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Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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